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Manu Minute: A Good Moa To You

Moa (Red junglefowl)1, Alex Wang.jpg
Alex Wang
Moa look a lot like modern-day chickens. They're a bit smaller than their barnyard cousins, and male moa have a recognizable red, black, and green color pattern in their plumage.

In Hawaiʻi, you have the opportunity to see a multitude of beautiful birds, ranging from the honeycreepers that dot our forests to the sandpipers along our shores, and even the seabirds that make their home in the heart of our cities!

There's also a ton of chickens.

The islands, and Kauaʻi in particular, host thousands of feral chickens. Legend has it that they flew the coop during Hurricane Iwa and Hurricane Iniki, and have been free-ranged ever since. But Hawaiʻi has had its own version of this barnyard bird for almost a millennium — the moa, or red junglefowl.

Polynesian voyagers brought over moa, making them the first bird introduced to Hawaiʻi by humans. And there are still a few strutting around, close to a thousand years later.

Common chickens were likely domesticated from moa around 8,000 years ago. While both are present in Hawaiʻi, they've interbred to the point where it can be hard to tell them apart. There are a few tricks, however.

Moa are smaller than chickens, and they have a distinctive red, black, and green color pattern in their plumage. If you listen very closely, you can hear slight differences in their crows. Hear them both on today's Manu Minute.

AMTJ_Moa Red junglefowl (wild and domestic) Spectrogram Video.mp4

Audio credit: Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology (ML285039, ML2669)

Patrick Hart interests in the ecology and conservation of Hawaiian forests and forest birds stem from years of living in a primitive field camp as a graduate student in the 1990’s at Hakalau Forest National wildlife refuge.
Ann Tanimoto-Johnson is the Lab Manager & Research Technician in the Hart Lab/Listening Observatory for Hawaiian Ecosystems (LOHE) Bioacoustics Lab. She researches the ecology, bioacoustics, and conservation of our native Hawaiian forests, birds, and bats.
Savannah Harriman-Pote rejoined The Conversation in 2021 after interning for Hawaiʻi Public Radio in the summers of 2018 and 2019. She also produces HPR's podcast Manu Minute in collaboration with The University of Hawaii at Hilo. She was born and raised on the Big Island, and she collects public radio mugs.
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